Climate Negotiations Should Stop Focusing On “Burden Sharing” And Start Focusing On Sustainable Development: Report

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While a key element of negotiations aimed at achieving an international agreement for combating climate change has understandably been fair treatment of all parties, there has been too narrow a focus on “burden-sharing” and “atmospheric rights,” according to a new report that suggests this approach has led to unnecessary divisiveness and is likely to yield nothing more than the “minimum acceptable level of individual action.”

Instead, the report concludes, a better approach would be to refocus the debate over the equitability and ambition of climate targets based on a “right to sustainable development” model.

Titled “Taming the beasts of ‘burden-sharing’” and written by analysts with the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, the report examines seven different burden-sharing approaches based on the “right to emit,” which they define as “determining how the costs and burdens should be shared between countries.” In focusing on the costs and burdens of climate action, the reports finds, these approaches fail to take into account the fact that all countries stand to benefit substantially from reducing global warming pollution.

The parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change are expected to announce their pledges on national climate action (known as “intended nationally determined contributions” or INDCs in negotiator parlance) in the first quarter of 2015. Rather than seeking to unlock all of the potential benefits of climate action and the ways all parties can work together to achieve that potential, however, the report says that “much of the discussion domestically and internationally is about reconciling the urgency and ambition required to tackle climate change with the affordability and equity of efforts by countries.”

But even a common definition of “equity” is unlikely to be established, the report states, “because individual countries have generally only endorsed definitions that match their national intentions or negotiation position.”

The authors of the report, Alina Averchenkova, Nicholas Stern, and Dimitri Zenghelis, argue that countries must recognize that measures to rein in greenhouse gas emissions have several benefits outside of limiting global temperature rise, including the reduction of air pollution and traffic congestion, secure access to energy for all, “and other opportunities associated with low-carbon growth.”

The authors write that they are seeking to reframe the negotiations around the “right to sustainable development” as opposed to burden sharing because such an approach would produce more equitable results for all parties and more ambitious climate commitments while also ensuring a variety of other sustainable development goals can be met.

They write: “While the outcomes of most of these approaches in terms of emissions would look little different from those resulting from ‘burden-sharing’, the outcomes in terms of economic development would be meaningfully different, and would encourage greater ambition and more collaboration to improve the affordability of, and increase the opportunities from, decarbonisation.”

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